October 19, 2007

Go and Make Disciples / John Valenti

Why I love our Hispanic brothers and sisters

It was early evening, and a full crowd had assembled for Mass in the Guadalupe Chapel on the campus of St. Mary University in San Antonio, Texas.

I stood in the back next to a gentle man who appeared tired after a long day of labor. A couple stood holding their young children, who slept in their arms.

During the eucharistic prayer, they knelt on the cold, hard stone floor. Their personal piety inspired me to do likewise and, at the elevation of the Blessed Sacrament, they lifted their hands in praise.

These were not the Hispanic students who now comprise 53 percent of the student body. These were people who came to Mass during the week for sustenance and renewal. This is where they came to empty themselves of their fatigue and frustrations and center their lives in faith, family and community.

Hispanic Heritage Month began on Sept. 15, the anniversary of independence for several Latin American countries, and ran through Oct. 15. It is a celebration of the 44 million, or 14 percent, of the people in the United States of Hispanic origin.

One of the reasons why I love Hispanic Catholics is because it gives me the privilege of viewing a snapshot of what it must have been like for my own grandparents, who came to this country many years ago. They too were poor, hard- working and hopeful. They were brave and courageous, and wanted a better life for their children.

They were legal, in the sense of having obtained proper documentation, but were no less allowed entry for the purpose of giving the established generation of Americans the advantage of their labor. Truth be told, we have had an open back door for years in the United States through the trans-Texas corridor.

The Catholic Church in the United States has always been an immigrant Church, which has stood firmly with newcomers—Irish, Italian, German, Polish and now Hispanic people. Our families depended on the Church for socialization, faith formation, assimilation, language translation, cultural identity and schooling for our children.

Our Church also stands for truth and justice. With the collapse of comprehensive immigration reform, much of the immigration debate has shifted to the state and local level. Increasingly, states and localities have enacted anti-immigrant measures, many of which penalize not only the undocumented individual, but also their families, employers and others who interact with them.

We have the honor to welcome Christ in this generation of faith-filled newcomers. Please support immigration reform and implement a new round of education initiatives, including the Indiana bishops’ pastoral statement, “I Was A Stranger and You Welcomed Me: Meeting Christ in New Neighbors.” It can be found on the homepage of the Indiana Catholic Conference’s Web site at http://indianacc.org.

We have so much to learn from our Hispanic brothers and sisters. I respect their work ethic and have a Christian sense of solidarity with their poverty of spirit. We should be thankful not only for their contribution of labor, but particularly their faith.

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Mi 6:8).

(To be continued.)

(John Valenti is the associate director of Evangelization and Faith Formation for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis. E-mail him at jvalenti@archindy.org.) †

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